Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant–Reveal Glowing Youthful Skin with Chemical Exfoliation

DISCLAIMER: At the time this blog post was written, Paula’s Choice was owned by TA Associates, a private equity firm. Unilever, which is not cruelty-free, announced on June 14, 2021, that it would be acquiring Paula’s Choice. Since I do not support cruelty-free companies owned by parent companies that are not cruelty-free, I will no longer purchase or review Paula’s Choice products.  I am not removing this review since I know many of my readers will still want to support Paula’s Choice.

I’ve reviewed a few scrubs here that are meant to exfoliate the lips, body, and underarms. Those scrubs work by physically exfoliating the skin with granular ingredients like sugar or salt. There are a lot of products and methods to physically exfoliate the face as well, but there is another option for exfoliation that I like to use in my weekly skincare routine. 

Chemical exfoliants are acidic solutions that increase the rate of skin cell turnover to reveal glowing youthful skin. There are two common types of chemical exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Common AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid, while the most common BHA is salicylic acid. 

Choosing the right type of chemical exfoliant

People with dry or normal skin would benefit the most from AHA exfoliants because they exfoliate the surface of the skin while helping it to retain moisture. For those with oily or acne-prone skin, BHA exfoliants work better because not only do they exfoliate the surface of the skin, but they also exfoliate inside pores.

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Gel ExfoliantThose of us with combination skin can opt for either AHA or BHA exfoliants. Since it seems to me that BHAs have more benefits than AHAs and I don’t have dry skin, I prefer BHA exfoliants. Paula’s Choice is famous for its leave-on chemical exfoliants, so I had to try Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant. The most popular product from Paula’s Choice is the 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, but I thought the gel formula would be less messy and therefore easier to use.

Importance of sun protection with chemical exfoliants

I want to add a quick note about the importance of wearing sun protection when using exfoliants on the face or body. When you have a layer of dead skin cells on top of your fresh new skin, that layer provides some sun protection. Once that layer is exfoliated away, the new outer layer of skin is more sensitive to the sun, and more likely to burn. Make sure you always wear sufficient sun protection, especially when using exfoliating products in your routine.

Product claims directly from

This leave-on gel exfoliant is a completely non-abrasive way to remove layers of dull skin to reveal younger skin hiding underneath. It also shrinks clogged pores, diminishes the appearance of wrinkles, and improves skin tone.

  • Gently reveals smoother, radiant skin
  • Refines and clarifies pores
  • Gel texture hydrates and perfects skin’s surface

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Other product details

  • Price: $29.50
  • Net weight: 3.3 oz.
  • Made in the USA
  • Cruelty-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-irritating
  • pH range of 3.2-3.8
  • All skin types
  • Shelf life: 12 months
  • Where to buy: or
  • Available in 20+ countries/regions (each has its own website; they can all be found here)
  • Overall rating: 8.6/10
    • Ease of application: 10/10
    • Exfoliation: 9/10
    • Team Player: 7/10
    • Ingredients: 8/10
    • Price: 9/10

Please note that I am not a skincare professional. I am simply an individual that enjoys learning about and using skincare products. Speak to your dermatologist or esthetician if you have any concerns.

Ease of application

This gel exfoliant is packaged in a pump, which makes it very easy to get just the right amount (I use about half a dime-sized amount for my whole face). I apply it in sections to my forehead, and then the right and left sides of my face just like I would with my other skincare products. It applies smoothly over the skin and is safe to use near the eyes so you don’t have to avoid that area. This product is very easy to use and not fussy like some other exfoliating products since it’s gentle enough to be used on the entire face.


As far as the exfoliation of pores goes, I see very little difference in my pores when using this product. I don’t think that means it isn’t working, but I think this is something that might take a lot of time and frequent use to see the full effect on pores. I’m currently only using this product three or four days each week because I also use physical exfoliators sometimes. 

Paula’s Choice makes a couple of other BHA products that have higher percentages of salicylic acid. Those might be a better choice for someone looking for a deeper exfoliation of pores.

Gentle exfoliation on the surface of my skin is the main thing I want from an exfoliating product, and that is where this product truly shines. I only apply this product at night, and my skin always feels soft and smooth the next morning. I love that I can get that effect without any harsh scrubbing! This exfoliant is definitely effective for loosening and removing dead skin cells to reveal more youthful skin.

Team player

As I said before, I use this exfoliant a few nights a week and on those nights, it’s the second step in my skincare routine. I apply my Paula’s Choice Resist Weightless Advanced Repairing Toner first, and this exfoliant applies very well over that since the toner really is weightless. 

This exfoliant is a bit thicker than I would like. It feels tacky once applied and products don’t apply easily on top. It does help to let the exfoliant sink into the skin for 10-15 minutes before applying other products, but I don’t always have time for that (it would help if I wouldn’t stay up so late, but who am I kidding, that’s not going to change!). The main product I struggle with getting to work with this exfoliant, is moisturizer. Both products are somewhat thick, and when they combine it takes a lot of effort to work into the skin completely.

Again, I think there are other products that would likely solve this problem for me. I haven’t tried it yet, but the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant appears to be very light like a toner, so I don’t believe I’d have the problems with that product that I do with this one. It seems as though the only advantages of the gel over the liquid are ease of use and it’s also more hydrating.


I was pleasantly surprised to see that this product only has 13 ingredients, and there are a lot of good ones!

Water (Aqua), Methylpropanediol, Butylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Salicylic Acid, Phytosphingosine, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Epilobium Angustifolium (Willowherb) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Bisabolol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide

Six of the ingredients in this formulation have wonderful skin-loving benefits!

  • Salicylic acid
    • BHA
    • Anti-inflammatory
  • Phytosphingosine
    • Complex fatty alcohol that functions as a water-binding agent
    • Has preservative qualities
  • Grape seed extract
    • Potent antioxidants
  • Green tea leaf extract
    • Contains antioxidants
    • Anti-inflammatory
  • Willowherb extract
    • Contains antioxidants
    • Skin-soothing
  • Bisabolol
    • Skin-soothing

The one bad thing about these six ingredients, is that they’re further down the list than I’d like. Salicylic acid is the fifth ingredient and that only accounts for 2% of the formula. That means the others are even lower concentrations.

The good news is that the top four ingredients, as well as all the other ingredients not listed above, are “neutral” ingredients that support the efficacy of the formula. For example, Butylene Glycol is a multitasker; it’s a solvent, a humectant, helps the product absorb faster and deeper into the skin, and also helps the product spread easily over the skin.

There aren’t any bad ingredients in this formula. By that, I mean that there aren’t any ingredients that will irritate the skin or have any other negative effects.


The price of this exfoliant is $29.50. That is more than what I pay for most of my skincare products, but I think it’s a fair price. While it can be difficult to use with some other products, it is very effective at gently exfoliating and it’s very easy to use. I also think the amount of product in the bottle, 3.3 ounces, is very generous. I’ve had this product for quite a while now and I won’t run out anytime soon!

Despite the difficulties I sometimes have with this product, I do enjoy the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant. I think the Liquid Exfoliant might work a little bit better for me. The gel exfoliant would probably be ideal for someone with normal to dry skin that wants to dip their toes into a BHA product, since this one does provide some extra hydration and soothes the skin.

If you decide to try this or any facial exfoliant, please remember to wear sunscreen daily! It’s very important to protect your skin, especially when it’s sensitive from exfoliation.

Have you tried any Paula’s Choice exfoliating products? Please let me know in the comments below!


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2 thoughts on “Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant–Reveal Glowing Youthful Skin with Chemical Exfoliation

  1. I’ve used Paula’s Choice products for over 20 years! They cleared my skin up when even my dermatologist couldn’t. I do use the liquid bha….it soaks in quickly. I pour a little into my hand and then use the fingers of my other hand to dab it on and rub it in. You can use a cotton ball but the cotton absorbs the product so I don’t like to do it that way because I feel like it wastes a lot of the product.

    • Hi Beth! Thanks so much for commenting! Sounds like the liquid BHA is the way to go. I agree with you on the application method–one thing that held me back from getting the liquid vs. the gel is that I didn’t want to waste product applying it with something absorbent. Your way of applying with fingers is definitely ideal to conserve product. 🙂


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